At a time when several country artists are releasing double and triple albums, Jason Aldean says the inspiration for his tenth studio album, the 30-track Macon, Georgia, has more to do with rock n’ roll than following any trend.
He began working on the project in 2020, and took his cue from one of his favorite childhood albums, the Guns N’ Roses 1991 double album Use Your Illusion.
“When I think of double albums, I think of that record,” says Georgia native Aldean, seated in a chair at his management company’s Nashville offices. “Even if you look at like our album covers, it’s kind of similar to what GNR did on their record [1991’s Use Your Illusion I & II], the different-colored albums. I remember as a fan, getting both of those albums and listening to ’em, having all these really cool songs — and GNR only did that double album one time. That definitely had a part in it.”
Instead of dropping the entire 30-song album in one batch, he released the first half (Macon) in November and rolled out a mix of songs — rowdy rockers such as “Rock n’ Roll Cowboy” alongside the breakup ballads “Trouble With a Heartbreak” and “God Made Airplanes,” as well as the smoldering “My Weakness” — something he says falls in line with the shift in how fans consume music. The full set, named after his hometown, comes out Friday (April 22) on Macon Music/Broken Bow Records.
“They want music more often. They have access to so much music that they get an album all at once, then they burn through it in a couple of weeks and are like, ‘Well, what’s next?’ Or, by the time they get to track 30, they might not remember what track 10 was,” he reasons.
The lengthy tracklist also allows Aldean to check off several boxes, with the album serving as part live album, part greatest hits project. Tucked alongside 20 new songs are 10 live versions of previous hits, including “Take a Little Ride,” “She’s Country” and “My Kinda Party.”
“It was a way to incorporate all of those things into one, and do things a bit differently than everybody else,” Aldean says. The project also marks his tenth outing with longtime producer Michael Knox, whom he has worked with since his 2005 self-titled debut album.
“He was the one that found me, brought me to town, taught me everything about this business — he spent hours in the studio, working with me and teaching me things,” Aldean says. “At first, he was much more like a mentor, and now, he’s like a big brother and collaborator. I owe him a lot, because he took a chance on me and he hung with me when some of the other guys kind of got off the train when things weren’t so good. He stuck with me and rode it out, and I will forever be loyal to him. The fact that we’ve done so well makes it that much sweeter.”
Aldean has a track record of success with duets, notching chart leaders including “Don’t You Wanna Stay” with Kelly Clarkson, “Drowns The Whiskey” with Miranda Lambert, and “The Only Way I Know” with Luke Bryan and Eric Church. He recently added to that tally with the three-week No. 1 Billboard Country Airplay hit “If I Didn’t Love You” with Carrie Underwood. The song also earned a Grammy nomination, and ACM Award and CMT Music Awards wins, and is nominated for top country song at the Billboard Music Awards on May 15.
“When I heard that song, I felt like there was something different,” he says. “That one was undeniable. My biggest concern was if we could get [Carrie] on the song. You never know if she’s getting ready to drop a new single or album, and that gets hung up sometimes between labels. It just came along at the right time. And she, of course, knocked it out of the park.”
Elsewhere, the sweetly sentimental “Your Mama,” penned by Troy Verges, Ben West, Josh Miller and Florida Georgia Line’s Tyler Hubbard, is one Aldean calls “so outta left field for me, something I would typically never in a million years cut.
“I really just wanted to record it for my son,” continues Aldean, who shares two young children with his second wife Brittany Aldean. “It’s probably the most personal thing I’ve ever done on a record. I’ve had this song for a few years and kept going back and forth on whether to record it. But with this double album, it was the perfect time to put it out there.”
Aldean will have plenty of opportunities to perform songs from his new set starting in July, when he launches his Rock N’ Roll Cowboy Tour, with openers Gabby Barrett, John Morgan and DJ Silver. Aldean’s raucous live shows have thrice earned him the Academy of Country Music’s entertainer of the year honor, and in 2019, he earned the Academy of Country Music’s Dick Clark artist of the decade award. Along the way, he’s also picked some stellar openers who have gone on to become headliners themselves, such as Kane Brown, Bryan, Church, Florida Georgia Line and more.
“We have a pretty good track record with that,” Aldean acknowledges. “There’s a chalk board in that room over there in my manager’s office. Every year we’ll have all the names on the chalk board, every artist on every label that is available, that we think is a possibility. We spend a lot of time making sure we get the best options we can, someone we think is going to work with our crowd and take off in the next year. There are some that I got it right and they have gone on to be great, and some I almost missed the boat on.”
One of those near-misses was Luke Combs, who did wind up opening for Aldean’s 2018 High Noon Neon Tour.
“I remember trying to get Luke Combs for the third opening slot on a tour and he wanted the middle slot. I remember telling [Aldean’s manager] Clarence [Spalding], ‘He’s only got one hit.’ He said, ‘Well, they think he’s gonna have more,’ and I said, ‘Well, everybody thinks they’re gonna have more.’ So I kinda fought him a little bit but eventually gave in. That was one of the times I wasn’t sure, but then when he was on the road with us, you could see things just started to blow up for him.”
Aldean is already taking notes on possible openers for his next tour. “Parker McCollum’s the guy that I like right now,” Aldean says. “He’s amazing and one that I’ve kind of got my eye on.’”
With songs such as “Flyover States” and “Amarillo Sky” dotting his lengthy list of hits, Aldean has often used his music to draw attention to farmers and those living in rural America, swaths of the population that sometimes get overlooked. Those songs of small-town living, love and loss have resonated with a loyal fanbase.
For years, country artists have shied away from discussing politics, for fear of alienating listeners. But recently, Aldean has been one of a handful of country artists, on both sides of the aisle, being vocal about their political views. In October, after his wife shared photos of their children wearing anti-President Biden merchandise, Aldean said, “I will never apologize for my beliefs or my love for my family and country. This is the greatest country in the world and I want to keep it that way.” He also spoke out against vaccine mandates for schoolchildren.
“I’ve always tried to stay away from all of that stuff because it’s a no-win deal. But I think with everything that’s happened, it’s so hard to not say anything right now,” he says. “I’m not scared that like, 50% of my fanbase is gonna say, ‘Now we don’t want to hear your music.’ I don’t worry about that at all. Over the years, people kind of know where I stand. They know what I’m about and hopefully that is one reason they are fans. As an artist, I’ve always known my fanbase.”
He also felt strongly about showing his support for former tourmate Morgan Wallen, after a tape emerged in Feb. 2021 of the then-budding superstar using a racial slur. Wallen also co-wrote two tracks on Macon, Georgia, including “Whiskey Me Away” and “The Sad Songs.” Though Wallen was temporarily dropped from most radio playlists and dropped by his booking agency, “There was a small group of us that kind of had Morgan’s back in this whole thing, when everybody else was beating up on him a bit,” Aldean says. “Where I’m from, when you got a friend that’s down, you don’t just step on ‘em and keep ‘em down, you help them get back on their feet and teach ‘em and try to help them be better. That’s what we try to do, and I think a lot of people knew that, and that’s why I wanted to go out there [onstage at Nashville’s Bridgestone Arena during Wallen’s March 19 show]. He went through a lot, and I think his punishment was a little excessive — but at the same time, the biggest thing is him learning from it.”
Aldean has had a lot more experience than Wallen learning from any of his mistakes, and on new album track “Rock N’ Roll Cowboy,” Aldean asks, “How many miles are you gonna ride?” Nearly 20 years into his Broken Bow career, Aldean has no plans to slow down anytime soon, though he admits that kind of end-game thinking “does cross your mind sometimes.”
“It’s hard to get on the bus and miss out on all these things with your kids and family,” he says. “But I think fans and radio, they’ll let you know when it’s time to dial it back or walk away. As long as we’re making music and people care, I can’t see walking away from it. I look at guys like [Tim] McGraw, [Kenny] Chesney, those guys are 10 years older than me, and still playing shows and doing their thing, so I feel like we still got a lot of gas. But I don’t think I’ll be the one to decide that. I think it will be decided for me.”
He adds that poring over live performances and songs from his previous albums in selecting the live tracks for Macon, Georgia also has him viewing the long arc of his career and what he leaves behind.
“I’ve probably started thinking about that more so in the last few years that I ever did before,” he adds. “One of the things I think about more than anything is leaving this musical legacy to my kids. They will have all this stuff to look back on.”